Hand Me Down Plants

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A long post about gardening - nothing too revealing about me personally, but great for any burgeoning green thumbs out there!

One of my favorite things about my garden is that so many of my plants were gifts from my grandmother, either given to my mom when she bought my house in the mid-1980s or to me when I started moving in last spring.

My Papa, me, and my Granny, 
Ole Miss Graduation 2010

My granny is a wonderful gardener.  That's one of the most distinct memories I have of visiting the farm as a kid - how beautiful her flowers always were.  She had huge beds of hyacinths, daffodils, and irises.  Occasionally, she'd have tulips, too, but the deer would always eat them and I think she eventually gave up.  She had azaleas, forsythia, and apparently spirea, too.

As I've gotten the landscaping in the front yard situated (I just have to wait for my baby azaleas to grow and fill out the bed), I'm slowly turning my attention to the backyard.  Right now, to be honest, it's a weedpatch.  But it has potential.  I started with my spirea this past December.

My granny gave my mom three spirea plants many moons ago, but while this house was rental property, someone did terrible things to these plants.  When allowed to grow in their natural form and when kept pruned properly, they are simply breath-taking in late winter/early spring.  They bloom on new growth and, if given room, will grow in gorgeous waterfall shapes.

 My spirea.

These are shots of my spirea on a rainy day about a year ago.  They had not been cared for properly, so this past winter, I decided to prune them up.  Spirea bloom on new growth, and as you can see in the first picture, there was a large part of the middle plant that was primarily old growth, resulting in a gap in the flowers.

Unfortunately, as I discovered during my pruning escapades some nine months after these photos were taken, someone had wrapped a bit of wire around the middle and right spirea and completely distorted their shape.  As I said earlier, if given room and properly maintained, spirea form a natural waterfall/willow-esque shape.  

The middle plant had to be hard pruned nearly to the ground.  I did it while it was dormant, and I'm already seeing new sprouts popping up.  It will take about three years for it to come back, but it will be a much more attractive plant for it.  The rightmost plant needed almost as much pruning, though I was able to save much of the new growth near the bottom.  It's still a sad looking shrub, but it will likely be back in shape in a year or two.  

The left plant escaped the terrible topiary type machinations of some would-be gardener and emerged unscathed, though I do need to go in and remove about 1/3 of the old growth.  That's how you should prune spirea, by the way, by removing 1/3 of the old growth each year from the base of the plant.  Don't just lop off the top.  Go in to the base and remove an entire cane.  If your plant is 10 feet tall, you should be pulling out a single 10-foot cane.  Don't lop off the top because you'll be lopping off the new growth and, therefore, your pretty white blossoms.  Think of it more as thinning your spirea rather than pruning it.

Spirea are very hardy plants and if you end up, like I did with my middle plant, with a plant that is horribly formed or just terribly thick with old growth, you can take the drastic step I did of hard pruning.  Basically, you cut the entire plant down to about 2-3" from the ground.  It will look like a bunch of little stumps.  Fear not (as my mother did when she discovered what I had done)!  You have not killed it.  Spirea are plants that, as the old timers say, you can run over with a lawn mower and it will still come back.  It will take time, but sometimes it's better just to start fresh.  Mine is already sending up shoots of new growth.  Some have tiny white blooms but most are just little green buds that will eventually grow into the beautiful white waterfall.

Next up in my garden, care of my granny, was a gorgeous and huge forsythia (this photo was taken just as it started to bloom out last year).

Unfortunately, when I had the new privacy fence installed and the chainlink fence (you can see it in the background) removed, the forsythia went with it (not by our orders, I assure you!)...or so we thought.

Look what I found just today!  

[photo coming soon!]

Seems our little friend's roots had grown under the low stone fence and popped up on the other side.  Because forsythias are easy to grow from cuttings as well as from dividing the roots, I plan to dig up part of the plant, if not all of it, and move it to other parts of the yard.  Forsythia bloom on the prior year's growth, so it's important to prune them right after blooming, in the spring.  When cared for properly, they add such a cheerful burst of early spring color to the garden:

To divide my forsythia, I plan on using a spade to dig out the side shoots (I've gone one particular one in mind) after pruning.  The pruning makes the plant more manageable to divide, rather than trying to keep the long branches out of the way.  Forsythias are fast growing plants - some people say up to a foot or two a year - so don't worry about trying to keep it long and pretty for transplanting.  Once I dig down to the root, as long as it's a long, sturdy looking bit of root, I'm just going to whack it off from the rest of the roots and replant wherever I want.  With a good bit of water, I should end up with a beautiful and healthy new plant!  I'll be sure to keep you updated!

So what's going on in your garden?  I'd love to hear about it, or better yet, see photos!


  1. Lordy, I can't show a photo just yet! When my back yard starts blooming I'll show that, but the front yard needs MAJOR tender loving care. You see, I have two large beds on either side of my walkway. There was a hodge podge of bushes there, but it actually was very pretty. I have some boxwoods (one of which is still alive), three juniper bushes, and then about 5 very large varigated euonymus bushes. Unfortunately, these caught some sort of illness and I asked my lawn guy to trim them back. Well, all that is left is a few roots and such. And the junipers are ailing, and I'm just beside mysef! I have the ugliest house on the block at the moment :( I loved reading about your spirea. Although they may not fix my front yard issue, they would be absolutely PERFECT in the back corner of my yard. Do they need lots of sun? Little sun? Hmmm...I do like them very much!

  2. Trust me, I know how you feel! I try to spruce the front up with a festive flag each season, but my "freshened up" flower bed looks so puny with my 1-gallon azaleas, especially since my neighbor has a professionally landscaped yard! Soooo ready for those guys to get growing and bush up!

    I'm sitting here trying to remember how the light is on the spirea. I believe they get dappled light in the morning (courtesy of my neighbor's oak tree seen in the second picture) then full midday and afternoon sun. They produce the most flowers in full sun, but I'm pretty sure they'll survive in partial shade (thinking back on the bushes at my grandmother's which are growing under a couple of big pin oaks).


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